>Most local businesses surveyed by The Pioneer say their sales are down about 20 percent from last year
News Editor
   Local retailers are reporting sluggish sales over the holiday shopping season, pointing to the recession and wondering whether Madras shoppers were buying their gifts out of town.
   The Pioneer asked the owners or managers of 10 local businesses how their sales were this Christmas, and the majority reported a decline of about 20 percent from a year ago.
   Employees at Hatfield's, Reynoso Jewelry Shoes & Clothing, Radio Shack, Discount House Furniture & Appliances, Factory 2-U, Cascade Sports Authority and Thrifty Hometown Drug all reported sluggish sales.
   Employees at these stores offered different theories.
   Blanca Reynoso, who owns and operates Reynoso Jewelry Shoes & Clothing, reported a 20 percent dip but said it isn't life-threatening to her business because her and her children staff the store.
   "I don't know if it has to do with September 11th or not but I know a lot of people are out of work so I can't really complain much," said Reynoso, who sits on the Chamber of Commerce board.
   Shirley Hedger, manager of Discount House Furniture & Appliances, said she wasn't shocked her sales were down because they've been struggling since September. But she is sure it isn't unique to Madras.
   "My son-in-law from Portland, who's in the car business, he's down too," she said. "I think it's everybody.
   "A girl at Sears said, `I'm sure glad you came in here and let me wait on you because I've been bored.'"
   Hedger also said she doesn't think federal tax cuts and stimulus packages will solve the problem.
   "What little they give back to the people isn't helping the economy," she said.
   "I don't know if it was people leaving town to shop or the economy," said Greg Kemper, owner of Cascade Sports Authority, who said he was down 15-20 percent. "I know Wal-Mart was up 20 percent so I hope people asked them to sponsor their baseball team."
   Jeanne Mendazona, owner of Thrifty Hometown Drug, which sells many gift-type items, said she hoped the snow might keep more shoppers in town and improve her business' sales but it didn't.
   She also had another theory on why her sales were down: "I've heard a lot of people saying they did their shopping on the Internet."
   Parrish Van Wert, executive director of the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, said he hadn't had the chance to speak with as many business as he'd like, but had heard sales at most places were down about 20 percent.
   "The economy obviously plays a big role," Van Wert said. "People are probably a little more careful with their credit and that obviously plays into the amount of money they spend during the holiday season.
   "It'll be interesting to see how credit sales vs. cash sales played out compared to recent years."
   One business The Pioneer surveyed reported their sales were neither up or down.
   Al Kozak, an assistant manager at Bi-Mart, reported sales that were even with last year's numbers. But it was the first time sales had not increased since Bi-Mart opened in Madras three years ago.
   "For us, we had a good year but not a fantastic year," he said. "We opened a store in Prineville and they got a lot of the Prineville customers we used to get. That's kind of natural when you open a store real close."
   Exceptions to the rule included the Ralph's TV & Furniture and Satterlee Jewelers -- each of which reported increased sales and were quick to say they wanted to thank Madras residents for shopping locally.
   Jenny Bingham, manager of Satterlee Jewelers, said they were expecting the worse but were up in sales. "We just didn't know what was going to happen," she said.
   But she did note this: "Customers were more cautious with their money."
   Donna Hagedorn, owner of Ralph's TV & Furniture, reported an 8 percent increase in holiday sales compared to a year ago. But her business is down 1 percent on the year.
   "The way the economy's going, we're pleased," she said.
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